Urban Agriculture and the Production of Plenty for the Many

Venezuelan Minister of Urban Agriculture Lorena Freitez reflects on this one of a kind ministry's first year in existence and shares her vision for 2017-2021.


The Economy Affects Us, Can We Affect [the Economy]?

For the majority, the greatest trouble of our current political-economic conflict is the feeling that the economy affects us and seemingly, that we cannot affect the economy. [The economy] has us convinced that economists who advise leaders can fix our economic problems and that what each of us can do is very little, insignificant and minimal.

2016’s economic shock forced us to rethink these convictions that the Venezuelan family is economically defenseless. This required us to reconsider our role in these economic equations and familiarize ourselves with all the factors and actors that they are composed of.

2016 was the year of economic disillusionment: the reality that a few “owners” of land, machines, trucks, stores and banks are producing and supplying what thousands or millions are lacking is an inefficient equation. The lesson: this other economy which is an economy for the future that will break with the historical cycles of economic dependence in Venezuela and where the many produce for the many and market rules are subject to the action of the majority. The challenge: organize, support and accompany this mass production, diversify production according to needs, territories and subjects; apply methodology, technologies, rules, just medications as well as social and moral values; produce a new democratic equation for the national economy.

After a year of undergoing internal, external, oblique and transverse marginalizations with 14,600 directly accompanied production units, 3,022 financed, 140,000 people trained in agroecology, 9,377 tons of food produced, and a 4-year road map on how to progressively cover 20% of the annual food requirement for nearly 17 million Venezuelans who inhabit the metropolitan areas of the country, the great victory of Venezuelan Urban Agriculture composed of policy, methods and people (agro-urban farmers) has been, above all, the creation a new space for social action where this new economic equation, which seeks to solve the majority’s needs, demands and aspirations, is not only possible but, [already] here.

We Won Much More for Food Production

If working on a small-scale is among the principles necessary to sustain this agro-urban production equation, the question of convincing new Venezuelans that a new model of democratized production is possible, and at the same time that we could respond to the current circumstances together by producing kilos of food was also key. Moreover, we could contribute to the economy of the future. Beyond production quantity, the first movement of this new [practice] was to gain the will to sow (produce), as an antidote against the social paralysis that operated the demoralizing and humiliating economy created by the elites.

The first major mission of the Ministry of Popular Power for Urban Agriculture (MINPPAU) was precisely this: 29,426 productive units were registered throughout the country, bringing together 100,000 people motivated to produce, through activating the Urban Agriculture National Registry. We prioritized 10 of the largest and most populated cities from across the country in order not to distract us from urban areas and we proposed 13 short cycle vegetables with the clear intention of having the first harvest sown in these cities between 90 and 100 days and with a minimum output (50 kg of seeds and 104,000 tomato seedlings), the production of 377 tonnes of vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, paprika, peppers, radishes, lettuce, among others) and that the produce could all be eaten at the close of the 100 day agro-urban production campaign.

This first campaign “100 Days for Urban Agriculture” was nothing more than a strategy to visualize and accompany a new political-productive “agro-urban” Venezuelan subject who, synthesizing the best of the countryside and the city, entered into economic democratization disputes. In 100 days: 1) we knew the potential of urban agriculture in Venezuela, mapping those committed to agriculture and militant in those cities; 2) we visualized the people’s capacity to solve problems; 3) we awakened restlessness and enthusiasm in those indifferent or skeptical about these new forms, subjects and productive spaces; 4) we identified the main challenges of sustainable and humane agriculture in cities.

Yes, We Were Also Able to Increase Food Production  

We went from a volume of 377,000 kilos in 10 cities to 9,000,000 kilos in 180 urban parishes. With a jump of 2.387% increase in our own brands of production we welcome January 2017 as the first year of this nobel ministry comes to a close.

With the intention of jumping from our wish to a reality, in July 2016 we launched “21.5 weeks for Agro-Urban Hallacas”, which was call to organize families and communities around a collective sense: “let us produce the ingredients for our hallacas (Venezuelan Christmas tamale dish), let’s fight, no one will steal our Christmas”. This was our call to organize diverse subjects, territories and modes of production, within the framework of a concrete policy to support production under the slogan “Let’s all chip in”, appealing to a methodology based on shared work, mutual support, respect and co-responsibility between producers, families and the government.

Twenty-one weeks dedicated to organizing ourselves on six production fronts based on technical support, agroecological training and financial support with more than 3,000 credits and donations of agricultural equipment. More than 140,000 people formed part of this initiative from non-organized families, youth groups, Local Provision and Production Committees (CLAP), animal protein producers, schools and small peri-urban producers, which we directly accompanied to create 14,674 productive units, along with which last December we fulfilled the supply of hallaca ingredients for 305,000 families in 180 urban territories.

We’ve Just Begun: Agro-Urban Challenges

For Venezuelan urban agriculture to stay within the expectations of our national future and especially to become a useful productive instrument, we must crystallize an urban agricultural production system. There are challenges associated with this every moment along the productive chain:

Innovations in agricultural planning: produce what is necessary. Calculating production according to nutritional consumption needs seems obvious but, it is not. Starting with the Strategic Plan “Agroproductive Cities 2017-2021”, MINPPAU intends to gradually cover in 4 years, 20% of the annual food requirement for almost 17 million Venezuelans living in the country’s metropolitan areas, starting in 2017 with 340,000 tons of food in 4,360 hectares, which will focus primarily on consolidating our national School Food Program.

We must develop our own technological references or die: the challenge is to achieve high output with few spaces and resources.

    1. Today, we have six sowing methods. For these methods we define surfaces, planting types, costs, labor force and output. It is urgent to improve optimal methods for animal protein production.

    2. Urban agriculture’s sustainability is equal to advancing easy and efficient methods for water management guaranteeing irrigation for example.

    3. We will not have credibility when talking about sovereignty unless we overcome the agricultural dependence of imported goods. Today we have a national project for the annual production of seeds (vegetables, tubers, cereales and grains), bio-supplies (fertilizers and bio-controllers), substratum and composts, balanced animal feed and genetics for alternative herds such as rabbits and goats. More than 300 artisanal seed producers and 18 Zamoran funds (11,000 hectares) are committed to urban agricultural production.

Territorial self-sufficiency as an expression of an efficient agro-urban productive chain. Guarantee postharvest food to ensure that plant products and animal protein are mainly supplied to the territories where they are produced and that the associated producers can develop the highest value added to their production (artisan or industrial processing of agricultural products).

Make progress in the productivity of urban land. Advance in the productive reprogramming of urban land and demand the implementation of Decree 2,496 allowing urban public spaces be used for agricultural purposes, approved by President Nicolás Maduro on October 20, 2016.

Build financial instruments specific to Urban Agriculture, to dialogue with the integrality of economic policies that optimize the productive use of income.

Thousands of Producers are Not Enough: We Must Takeover the Macroeconomy

A year since MINPPAU’s creation, we are far from losing, today we have won a public instrument to support and accompany the people’s initiatives determined to carry out economic transformations and to produce their own food. We have won the world’s first Ministry of Urban Agriculture, which not only holds a new possibility for a healthier, humane and economic agriculture, but also a niche from which to build the foundations for new forms of production that guarantee greater sovereignty. An ally was born for new subjects who, increasingly with political efficiency, will fight for an economy for all.

However, we know that even when thousands of new producers are added to the national productive system, this will not be enough to transform the rules of the game.

If we are going to fight, we must do it within all dimensions of this economic conflict. These new Venezuelan economic equations require new producers but also, new rules to protect national import production; new rules to balance profit levels for those that accumulate the most capital in the country; a simple, public and pedagogical policy (that we can all understand) that assigns fair value to what is produced but also makes us guarantors of such value; new rules on money flows and banking systems.

2017, then, requires us to enter into a great debate and national effort to rebuild a general, much more just framework, to protect the national production and mark a balance in the distribution of this new wealth that we will produce in future. This will only be achieved in the same way: filling in the social desert that today is macroeconomics.

Translated and edited by Jeanette Charles for Venezuelanalysis.com.